What to watch in the Preakness: Derby fallout and a wide-open field
There won’t be a Triple Crown winner in 2019, as an already weird and wacky month in horse racing just gets weirder.
The Preakness Stakes is set to go off at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore at 6:50 p.m. ET on Saturday without the Kentucky Derby winner. It’s the first time since 1996, when Grindstone was retired due to injury, that the Preakness won’t feature the winner from the first leg of the Triple Crown.
It doesn’t matter if you believe the true Kentucky Derby winner is Maximum Security, who was disqualified from first place for interference, or Country House, the runner-up who was elevated to winner. They’re both skipping the Preakness.
But even without Country House or Maximum Security in the race, there are still several intriguing subplots in the Preakness. Here are five storylines to watch for the middle leg of the Triple Crown.
The Kentucky Derby finish might hang over this particular Triple Crown series for years to come.
The Derby sent spectators and bettors into a frenzy when Maximum Security became the first horse in the 145-year history of the event to be disqualified for a race-riding incident.
The only historical precedent for a disqualification in the Kentucky Derby is the case of Dancer’s Image, who was disqualified days after the 1968 race following a positive drug trust for a then-banned substance. His owners also filed a lawsuit and initially won, but it was overturned upon appeal in 1972 after years of legal battles.
Dancer’s Image actually ran in the Preakness, finishing third behind winner Forward Pass, who was also the Kentucky Derby winner after the disqualification. Coincidentally, Dancer’s Image was disqualified again in the Preakness for a race-riding incident and placed eighth. He was retired after the race due to injury.
If Maximum Security’s owners win their lawsuit, the decision to skip the Preakness will certainly be one of the biggest “what if” scenarios in the history of the Triple Crown.
Just like 1951
The Preakness is going back in time.
The first four finishers across the line in the Kentucky Derby are bypassing the Preakness for the first time since 1951. In addition to Maximum Security and Country House, Code of Honor (second place) and Tacitus (third place) are also skipping the Preakness.
Code of Honor is pointing toward the Dwyer Stakes in July and Tacitus will target the Belmont Stakes in June.
Also sitting out the Preakness will be Omaha Beach, the morning line Kentucky Derby favorite who scratched days before the race because of a throat issue.
The only horses in the Preakness from the 19-horse Kentucky Derby field are Improbable (fourth), War of Will (seventh), Win Win Win (ninth) and Bodexpress (13th).
That means it’s a wide-open field — and a large one too, with 13 horses expected to compete. That would be the most in the Preakness since 2011, when 12-1 shot Shackleford defeated favored Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in a 14-horse field.
Surprisingly, it’s pretty rare for a horse who didn’t race in the Derby to win the Preakness, although it does happen. Eight of the past 10 Preakness winners raced in the Derby, with the exception of Cloud Computing and the filly Rachel Alexandra.
Cloud Computing, who won the Preakness over Classic Empire in 2017, bypassed the Derby. Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 lengths in 2009, before she was sold to new ownership and entered in the Preakness, winning the race over Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.
In this year’s Preakness, Bourbon War, Warrior’s Charge, Owendale, Market King, Alwaysmining, Signalman, Everfast, Laughing Fox and Anothertwistafate are the new contenders.
Another record for Baffert?
Bob Baffert failed in his quest to tie trainer Ben Jones’ record of six Kentucky Derby wins, but he still has a chance at a record eighth Preakness win this year with Improbable.
Improbable, the fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, will likely be the favorite on Preakness day. Improbable won three races as a 2-year-old but has yet to win as a 3-year-old. He finished ahead of stablemates Game Winner and Roadster in the Derby.
Baffert has certainly had his share of Preakness success. In addition to Triple Crown winners Justify and American Pharoah, his other Preakness winners are Lookin at Lucky, War Emblem, Point Given, Real Quiet and Silver Charm.
However, out of the 10 horses Baffert has entered in the Preakness who weren’t Derby winners, only Point Given and Lookin at Lucky won. Baffert has been close a few other times with Bodemeister (second in Derby and Preakness) and Congaree (third in Derby and Preakness).
Jockey Mike Smith, who lost the mount on Omaha Beach when he scratched in the Derby, will ride Improbable on Saturday.
Revenge for War of Will?
War of Will hasn’t exactly been favored by Lady Luck recently. First, he broke terribly from the gate in the Louisiana Derby, with his hindquarters almost hitting the ground at the start. That led to a ninth-place finish. Then he drew the dreaded No. 1 post in the Kentucky Derby.
War of Will then made news in Kentucky for all the wrong reasons. He was the horse most directly impacted when Maximum Security came out from the rail, and the two almost clipped heels but averted disaster. Maximum Security crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, and War of Will crossed eighth but finished seventh after Maximum Security’s DQ.
However, Maximum Security’s connections have contended that War of Will was at fault for the whole mess, both in a video that has circulated on the internet and in their lawsuit against the stewards and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
This is War of Will’s chance to get in the headlines for something other than controversy and bad luck. But he’s not quite there yet after drawing the rail yet again for the Preakness.
With a smaller field size, that’s certainly not the issue it would be in the Derby, but it’s not so lucky either. Since 1960, only Bally Ache (1960), Tabasco Cat (1994) and American Pharaoh (2015) have won the Preakness from the rail.
Pimlico’s last stand?
The Preakness will be run at Pimlico through 2020, but its future at the 149-year-old racetrack is uncertain.
Although state law currently says the Preakness can be moved to another track if there’s a disaster or emergency, there are plenty of signs pointing toward the end of the race’s tenure at Pimlico.
The fate of the racetrack is uncertain. It’s in dire need of renovations and just last month had to close almost 7,000 seats that were deemed unsafe for use. Laurel Park, approximately 30 miles away, has long been predicted to one day host the race.
According to the Baltimore Sun, the Stronach Group, which owns both Pimlico and Laurel Park, has spent almost 90 percent of state renovation subsidies over the past five years for improvements at Laurel Park. Just $6 million was spent at Pimlico compared to $45 million at Laurel Park.
Enjoy the Preakness at Pimlico for now, because the clock seems to be ticking on its time there.